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Tycoon linked to Saddam arrested for hotel fraud

HE WAS a tycoon with a list of worthy things to conserve, including the last deep coal mine in the North of England and Dundee Football Club in the Scottish Premier League. But yesterday, the strange world of Giovanni Di Stefano came crashing to earth as he was arrested in Rome.

The detention by Italian police was not for his commercial dealings with an assortment of dictators and war criminals such as presidents Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic and the latter's psychopathic henchman, Arkan. Instead, Mr Di Stefano ended up behind bars because he was wanted for questioning by Suffolk police.

The Anglo-Italian businessman might wonder at the hubris of it all. Had it not been for the publicity generated by his plan to buy Dundee for pounds 2.4m and Ellington Colliery in Northumberland for pounds 5m, it is unlikely that a warrant for his arrest, issued in 1991 in connection with an alleged deception involving a string of hotels, would have been acted on. But seeing his name in headlines brought back memories for some detectives in East Anglia.

Mr Di Stefano, ensconsed in Belgrade, appeared to have been out of the reach of police in Britain. But then it was reported that he had been holding talks with the National Union of Mineworkers and had made approaches to the Coal Authority with plans to export coal to Yugoslavia and African countries.

Mr Di Stefano was also negotiating with the Marr brothers, who own Dundee Football Club, offering pounds 2.4m for a share of it. He was eventually turned down.

Then police heard he was travelling in Western Europe, and thus coming within the scope of a British warrant. He now faces possible extradition over allegations of fraudulent trading involving five hotels in the Midlands and a company called Sandhurst Assets in 1991.

Mr Di Stefano claims to be long-interested in politics - he said he had donated pounds 30,000 to the Conservative Party. Displaying all the trappings of affluence, he travelled the world to indulge his interest in politics. He has spoken of meeting Presidnet Saddam in Baghdad, and is said to have built up commercial links with the Iraqi leader's son Uday.

He says he is the general sales agent for Iraqi Airways in Yugoslavia. And it was to the former Yugoslavia that he turned in 1991; he was given Serbian citizenship on the personal authorisation of President Milosevic.

Mr Di Stefano subsequently began to describe himself as the spokesman for Arkan, and wrote to Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, during the Kosovo crisis, warning that any attempt to apprehend Arkan, who is wanted for war crimes, would end in a bloodbath.

But yesterday it seemed Mr Di Stefano might have run out of friends in Serbia. Just before his arrest, Nebojsa Smiljanic, claiming to be a spokesman for Arkan, said: "We have nothing to do with him any more."